Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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In this appeal, the issue the Court of Appeal was asked to determine whether a state entity whose employees were exempt from state law requiring the payment of overtime compensation was nevertheless required to pay overtime compensation to such employees when the state entity jointly employed the employees with a non-state employer. Although the Court concluded in a prior appeal in this case that the matter should have been remanded to the trial court to permit the plaintiffs to amend their complaint to attempt to state a cause of action premised on such a theory, the Court now concluded such a cause of action would not be legally viable. Furthermore, the Court concluded the law-of-the-case doctrine did not require the Court reverse the trial court's order sustaining a demurrer to the plaintiffs' second amended complaint. View "Moreles v. 22nd District Agricultural Assn." on Justia Law

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Augustine Caldera was a correctional officer at a state prison with a stutter. The prison’s employees mocked or mimicked Caldera’s stutter at least a dozen times over a period of about two years. Sergeant James Grove, a supervisor, participated in the mocking and mimicking of Caldera’s stutter. Such conduct reflected the prison’s culture, according to a senior prison official. Caldera sued the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and Grove (collectively defendants) for disability harassment, failure to prevent the harassment, and related claims. A jury found the harassment to be both severe and pervasive and awarded Caldera $500,000 in noneconomic damages. The trial court found the damage award to be excessive and granted defendants’ motion for a new trial solely as to that issue. Defendants appealed and Caldera cross-appealed. Defendants claimed there was insufficient evidence the harassment was either severe or pervasive. Defendants also claimed the trial court committed two instructional and one evidentiary error. The Court of Appeal found substantial evidence to support the jury’s factual findings. The Court of Appeal also found no prejudicial instructional errors and the claimed evidentiary error was forfeited. Caldera claimed the trial court failed to file a timely statement of reasons after granting defendants’ motion for a new trial. To this, the Court of Appeal agreed, and reversed the trial court’s new trial order as to the damage award. In all other respects, the judgment was affirmed. View "Caldera v. Dept. of Corrections & Rehabilitation" on Justia Law

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This case arose from employment-related contract disputes. In 2013, petitioners, who were gastroenterologists, were recruited by GI Excellence, to work as physicians in GI Excellence’s gastroenterology service in Temecula, California. They each entered into separate physician recruitment agreements and physician employment agreements. The relationships did not last long: the two petitioners became dissatisfied with their conditions of employment and compensation and resigned in April and May 2014. GI Excellence sued them in separate actions for breach of the employment and recruitment contracts and other claims. Petitioners separately cross-complained for breach of contract, fraud, violation of Labor Code section 970, and other cross-claims. Litigation proceeded for about four years, with at least four continuances in the last year. Petitioners’ expert witness fell ill, and they asked for another continuance. GI Excellence filed an “opposition” which recognized the expert would likely not be available for trial. The superior court denied the ex parte application for continuance; petitioners filed this petition for writ of mandate and/or prohibition the next day, requesting an immediate stay of trial while the petition was being considered. GI Excellence filed an informal letter response. The Court of Appeal issued an order staying the trial and any proceeding requiring the participation of the expert pending determination of the petition. “A motion to postpone a trial on the ground of the absence of evidence can only be made upon affidavit showing the materiality of the evidence expected to be obtained, and that due diligence has been used to procure it. The court may require the moving party, where application is made on account of the absence of a material witness, to state upon affidavit the evidence which he expects to obtain; and if the adverse party thereupon admits that such evidence would be given, and that it be considered as actually given on the trial, or offered and overruled as improper, the trial must not be postponed.” Generally, a trial court abuses its discretion when it denies a request for continuance of trial due to the absence of a properly called and subpoenaed witness. Accordingly, the Court of Appeal determined the trial court abused its discretion in denying petitioners’ request for a continuance, and that the petition should have been granted. Therefore, the Court declared a peremptory writ of mandate issue, directing the Superior Court of Riverside County to vacate its order of May 16, 2018, in Riverside Superior Court case No. MCC1400959, denying petitioners’ ex parte application for a continuance of the trial, and to enter a new and different order granting the request. View "Padda v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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While serving as an administrative law judge for the State Personnel Board (SPB), Richard Fisher joined the law firm of Simas & Associates as “of counsel.” Simas & Associates specialized in representing clients facing administrative actions, including those heard by the SPB. The Simas law firm represented a CalTrans employee in a high-profile case that was being heard before the SPB while Fisher was serving his dual roles. Unaware Fisher was working for the law firm representing the CalTrans employee, the SPB administrative law judge hearing the high-profile case discussed the matter in a meeting attended by Fisher and even sent a draft opinion to her SPB colleagues, including Fisher. Fisher, however, never informed anyone at the SPB of his connection with the Simas law firm. Fisher’s connection with the law firm came to light only when another administrative law judge was asked about the matter during a local bar function. The SPB dismissed Fisher from his position as an administrative law judge. Fisher challenged the dismissal, which was affirmed after a hearing before the Office of Administrative Hearings. After a petition for mandamus relief was denied by the superior court, Fisher timely filed this appeal, arguing he should have been reinstated to his position because he was never personally served with notice that working for a law firm specializing in administrative matters constituted an impermissible activity for an SPB administrative law judge. Fisher additionally argued: (1) the 2013 incompatible activities statement adopted by the SPB was “an invalid ‘underground regulation;’ ” (2) conflicting evidence “fairly detracts from the findings” that he engaged in neglect of duty and other failures of good behavior; (3) the SPB’s decision “failed to address the Skelly[2] violation” of a missing document that was not disclosed to him prior to his hearing; and (4) his termination from employment at the SPB was not a just and proper penalty. The Court of Appeal rejected Fisher’s arguments that an SPB administrative law judge must expressly be informed it was impermissible to work for a law firm actively litigating cases before the SPB; Fisher’s conduct violated Government Code section 199903 and the SPB’s incompatibility activities statements that were in effect throughout his tenure as an SPB administrative law judge. The Court determined substantial evidence supported the findings of the administrative law judge who heard Fisher’s case that Fisher “displayed an appalling lack of judgment when he became of counsel with Simas & Associates” and “continued to demonstrate poor judgment when he failed to disclose his of counsel relationship to SPB.” The SPB did not abuse its discretion by dismissing Fisher. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment. View "Fisher v. State Personnel Bd." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of a petition to compel arbitration of plaintiff's action for wage and hour violations. In this case, plaintiff was an hourly employee at Wash Depot. Wash Depot adopted a policy set forth in its employee handbook, written in both English and Spanish, requiring arbitration of legal claims arising from the employment relationship. The English version stated that the denial of the right to bring a Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) action was severable if such denial was found by a court to be unenforceable, but the Spanish version provided that the PAGA denial was not severable. The court held that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable and the PAGA waiver set forth in the handbook was unenforceable as against public policy; the trial court did not abuse its discretion by declining to sever the PAGA waiver and enforce the remaining arbitration agreement; and the court construed the ambiguous language against the interest of the party that drafted it. View "Juarez v. Wash Depot Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law

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Employees brought a class action for failure to pay wages, failure to provide meal and rest periods, failure to furnish timely and accurate wage statements, failure to pay wages to discharged employees, and unfair business practices. They were employed in hourly positions, requiring them to swipe their ID badges at the beginning and end of their shifts. They claimed their employers’ method of calculating hours violated the Labor Code because the system rounded employees’ hours up or down to the nearest quarter hour before calculating wages and issuing paychecks, rather than using the employees’ exact check-in and checkout times. An expert examined data for a four-year period. One employer’s rounding procedure added time (9,476 hours) to the pay of 49.3% of the workforce (709 employees) and left 1.2 percent of the workforce (17) unaffected; 49.5 percent of the workforce (713) lost time (8,097 hours)-- an average net reduction of 2.04 minutes per employee shift. For the other employer, the rounding procedure added time (17,464 hours) to the pay of 47.1 percent of the workforce (861 employees), and had no effect on 0.8 percent of the workforce (14); 52.1 percent of the workforce (953) lost time (13,588 hours). The court of appeal found the system neutral on its face and as applied, in compliance with California law. View "AHMC Healthcare, Inc. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The South Orange County Community College District (the District) dismissed Carol Wassmann from employment as a tenured librarian at Irvine Valley College (IVC) in April 2011. Several years later, Wassmann obtained a right to sue notice from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and brought this lawsuit against the District, Karima Feldhus, Robert Brumucci, Glenn Roquemore, Lewis Long, and Katherine Schmeidler. Wassmann, who is African-American, alleged causes of action for racial discrimination, age discrimination, and harassment in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), intentional infliction of emotional distress, and two other causes of action (not relevant here). The trial court granted two motions for summary judgment: one brought by the District Defendants and the other brought by Long and Schmeidler, on the ground the FEHA claims were barred by res judicata, collateral estoppel, or failure to exhaust administrative remedies, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress cause of action was barred by res judicata, collateral estoppel, or the statute of limitations. Wassmann appealed, but finding no reversible error in the grant of summary judgment, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Wassmann v. South Orange County Community College Dist." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Natasha Meeks contended that she suffered sexual harassment on the job. She brought suit against her employer, defendant-appellant AutoZone, Inc. (AutoZone), and the alleged harasser, defendant-appellant Juan Fajardo, raising claims of sexual harassment, failure to prevent sexual harassment, and retaliation in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). The trial court granted summary adjudication in favor of AutoZone on Meeks’s retaliation claim. A jury returned defense verdicts on her remaining claims. On appeal, Meeks argued that certain evidentiary rulings at trial were prejudicial errors, requiring reversal. She also claimed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to AutoZone on her retaliation claim was erroneous. After review, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary adjudication on the retaliation claim. However, the Court found several erroneous evidentiary rulings required reversal of the judgment and remand for new trial on the remaining claims. View "Meeks v. AutoZone, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Metropolitan Water District challenged the decision of a hearing officer on a union grievance concerning the District’s use of a “comparative analysis” procedure in job postings. The trial court set aside the hearing officer’s decision on the grounds that it granted relief on an issue that was not ripe and exceeded the scope of the issue before him. The court of appeal affirmed. The issue before the hearing officer was framed as a question of whether the District violated the agreement in a particular job posting but the only union applicant for that posting did not meet the minimum requirements, so there was no actual controversy. Instead, the hearing officer was asked to speculate on the resolution of the hypothetical situation where a union applicant, meeting minimum requirements for the position, is subject to the comparative analysis procedure. In ordering the District to “cease and desist from the use of posting language or a recruitment procedure that provides ... for a comparative analysis” went beyond the hearing officer’s role, which is “limited” to hearing “the written grievance as originally filed.” The issue before the hearing officer was limited to the District’s use of language in job posting 3533719. View "Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. v. Winograd" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff challenged LACERA's forfeiture of his vested retirement benefits based on the determination by the County that plaintiff's gambling conduct was committed in the scope of his official duties pursuant to the Public Employees' Pension Reform Act of 2013, Government Code 7522 et seq. The Court of Appeal held that section 7522.72 is constitutionally sound, but that LACERA, not the County, bears the burden to afford plaintiff the requisite due process protections in determining whether his conviction fell within the scope of the statute. Therefore, the court modified the judgment to require the County to provide the requisite due process. View "Hipsher v. Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Ass'n" on Justia Law